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Eliminating the Office Dead Weight

on 17 October 2017


Posted by Kevin Senior
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You may like to think that your office is working like a well-oiled machine and maybe it is. On the other hand, you might have an employee or two (or more) who might not be pulling his or her weight. It can be difficult to determine if there is an actual problem with someone’s work performance or not. Here is help for identifying employees so you can address their performance

Lazy or Not

Before you begin efforts to purge yourself of a specific employee, it’s important to know if there really is a problem. Consider whether the person might simply have a different work style. In an office with many extraverts, a low-key introvert can be mistaken for lazy whereas extraverts among introverts can appear to be too busy socialising instead of working. Keep in mind there are many different styles of working and socialising. You don’t want to risk losing a good employee over a misperception.

Make Sure You’re Sure

If your employees commonly spend quite a bit of time working as a group it can be particularly difficult to know which employees are pulling their weight. Project management software is a great way to track the work performed by each employee and if whose work is on track. The software will also provide important documentation of missed deadlines and other performance issues that might need to be addressed.

Keep in mind that tracking employee performance is complicated. It can be easy for managers to become too caught up in qualifying performance that they begin to hurt their company’s productivity. When speed becomes over-emphasised, quality of work suffers. Be sure to look at the amount of work performed, the type of work, and the quality. Just as we wouldn’t necessarily want to be operated on by the world’s fastest surgeon, so must we realise that the quickest employee isn’t necessarily the best. Make sure you are fairly evaluating an employee’s contribution to the team before categorizing him or her as underperforming. 

Are There Outside Factors?

Don’t forget that employees don’t work in a vacuum (astronauts excepted). If they aren’t performing as expected, don’t assume that the employee is the problem. Any number of factors could explain why there is an issue. Make sure the employee has been trained properly and has the resources needed to perform well. 

In group settings, a lack of communication or another employee seizing control of a project could be the root cause of an apparent performance problem. If the employee has other work responsibilities, see how much time is occupied by those duties. This is particularly important when employees receive work assignments from multiple sources. Competing priorities or too much work, overall, can obviously cause work performance to suffer. It is also easy to overlook the large amount of time that may be required for small, routine tasks like answering the phone or assisting visitors. You might need to observe the employee at work to get a better feel for how their time is spent during the day.

Look for Solutions

If it does turn out that you have an employee who is underperforming, you’ll need to give him or her the opportunity to correct the problem. Often the employee can be brought up to speed with some mentoring. Don’t let a potentially good employee leave unnecessarily. Keep in mind the significant cost to attract, hire, and train a replacement employee. In addition, high turnover has a demoralizing impact on everyone in your team so it is important to have the right environment that allows employees to be successful.

Look at the underlying reasons why a specific employee may be underperforming. For newer employees, check to see if the job responsibilities were well explained when the person was hired. Did the interview process provide enough information to both the job applicate and the hiring supervisor about how well the potential employee’s skills and interests would fit the position? If not, it is important to correct these mistakes, as much as possible, and give the employee the opportunity to be successful. Discuss their job responsibilities, your expectations, and any changes from their original job description.

Don’t throw a potentially good employee out with a bad job fit. An employee who previously performed well but is no longer, may be bored or feel under-appreciated. Check to make sure employees have the opportunity to learn new skills, move into new positions, and are feeling valued. Annual job performance reviews often become all about how the employee can improve with too little focus on how their contributions are appreciated. Make sure you are setting clear expectations for performance while giving each worker plenty of opportunities to feel appreciated and needed.

If you do find an employee who is unwilling or unable to perform adequately, documentation will be important. Having a task and project management system will, again, be of assistance in showing how the employee underperformed. Make sure you fully document your efforts to help the employee succeed, your discussions and written notifications to them regarding their job performance, and the company’s willingness to give the employee time to get up to speed. This documentation will be critical if the employee’s performance doesn’t improve adequately and needs to be let go.


Glasscubes is a user-friendly collaboration software for teams. Connect everyone that you work with in an online workspace that improves the way you share files, manage projects and communicate with each other.

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About this author: Kevin Senior

Managing Director at Glasscubes. With over 30 years experience working with businesses of all sizes and industries, Kevin brings success to fast growing companies advising on best practices and growth lead technology solutions.